- Rev. Barbara Ballenger
Rector’s Note: What Are You Looking For? -4.20.23
I spent the first part of this week at the diocesan Clergy Conference in the Poconos. You might remember that this was the conference that last year left more than 60 clergy, including myself, with COVID in a super-spreader event of epic proportions. And you’ll be happy to know that new precautions were in place this year to ensure there was more testing, more masking, more distance, and more safety all around. Here’s hoping that our practices ensured health for all!
The highlight of the time away for me was the series of presentations offered by our keynote speaker, the Rev. Dr. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones. He is an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City, where he serves as the Priest and Director for Spiritual Formation at Trinity Retreat Center in West Cornwall, CT. An infectious laugh, high humor, and fantastic story telling helped us to ask some important questions of ourselves, and kept us engaged even through challenging topics such as racism, sexism, upholding LGBTQ dignity, combatting white nationalism and more.
This year the bishop has challenged the diocese to live into a spirit of Jubilee. Rev. Bozzuti-Jones was tasked with helping us to understand how we might live out the biblical idea of jubilee. His first talk was entitled: “What are you looking for? Jubilee is noticing God inviting you to notice the world.”
I wanted to share a set of questions that he posed to us, because I think they beautifully accompany the work that we have been doing on discerning our charisms. That question is a simple one, but can take us in really important directions as a parish. It is this: What do you want? Or another way to put is “what are you looking for?”
He drew this questions from guided meditation on John 1: 35-39, where John the Baptist’s disciples begin following Jesus only be faced with the question: What do you want? And the deeper question: What are you looking for?
And so Rev. Bozzuti-Jones asked is to jot down our answers to the following:
What three things do we want for ourselves, in our personal lives?
What three things do we want for our parishes?
What three things does God want for us?
In considering these questions we were to look for our deep desires, plumb that imaginative place of wanting and seeking.
Here is my answer to the second question:
I want my parish to understand itself deeply and relationally as the body of Christ.
I want it to have a deep and personal relationship with Jesus.
I want it serve Jesus by bringing Christ’s love, care and Good News into the wider community.
That’s what I want at least. But it’s not up to me, alone. I wonder what your answer to that question might be. It’s ok if we all have different desires for our community of faith. Because the third question above is the one that really will determine what we ultimately do as Christ’s followers: What does God want for us?
I like that the question is not “what does God want from us?” Rather it suggests that God has deep desires the flow out of the divine love for all creation. God has dreams for us. God wants good things for us.
So as a gift of my Clergy Conference, I share these questions with you for your own reflection and perhaps for discussion with others.
We really can’t help meet the deep spiritual desires and needs of others, if we aren’t engaged with our own deep needs and desires, Rev. Bozzuti-Jones reminded us. And I absolutely believe this is true.
God wants something – likely many things – for the faith community that is St. Peter’s, and for each individual in it. Another word for God’s desire for us, for what God wants for us – is gift. What does it take to be on the receiving end of what God wants for us? What does it take to be open to receiving the deepest needs and desires of our heart from a God who is waiting to pour the divine self into us?
Jubilee is noticing God inviting you to notice the world. What a wonderful definition of a biblical mandates that revolves around freedom from enslavement, freedom from debt and freedom from oppressive overuse.
How shall our community live into this jubilee of noticing God’s invitation, receiving God’s gifts and offering them to all who need a little taste of joy this Easter?
Let me know your thoughts.